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review of 2013

A skimpy round up of the best of the year from those who actually gave a damn:


Helen Grimshaw

1. Clarietta – Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs
The post punk monster of an album that was Clarietta tops my list of 2013. Although the critics nodded their heads to it when it was released, and praised it moderately, I don’t believe Clarietta has received nearly enough credit as it deserves. The Voyeurs have emerged as possibly the most promising band of the year, and will no doubt prove themselves to be the true prize gem of Heavenly Recordings.

The self-titled third studio album from MGMT was a real humdinger. The universe held its breath as Vanwyngarden and Company prepared to let loose what they had already described to be some very different music as to what all of us had fallen so deeply in love with – notably their hit debut of 2008, Oracular Spectacular. And they were right; it was quite a step away from their usual nonchalant indie-pop. But hell, it was so great that nobody gave a damn. There were even some real life lessons to be had on the LP – proof in Your Life Is a Lie. Basically all-round indie gold.

3. 180 – Palma Violets
It’s unusual for an album released so early in a year (February, to be exact) to be remembered when, at the end of the year, bloggers, reviewers and journalists round up the best and worst music of the past 12 months. It happened so long ago that it’s sort of forgotten, whilst the big, showy summer records and the bittersweet winter albums hog the limelight. But 180 is hardly an album to forget – the fresh, energetic garage rock from Lambeth kicked off the year that was to be hailed one of guitar rock revival, and it gave kids the sense that, this was what they had been waiting for. This was real music that real people could dance to. And it felt pretty awesome.

4. Where the Heaven Are We – Swim Deep
Okay, so I only just accused big, summer records of taking all the credit. But this was something else. Four guys from Birmingham dressed in baggy tartan and ratty Nirvana tees roll into the hype and release an album – should it be called an album? – more a mixture of all things lovely. Because Where the Heaven Are We is a lovely record. It’s so dream-pop and radiant, evokes memories that you’ve never had and basically makes you smile ear to ear because it pumps this drug into your veins called Happiness. If more people listened to the album, we’d probably be calling off a lot of wars by now.

5. Sistrionix – Deap Vally
Two girls. Taking on the world. Whilst crocheting. This is basically Deap Vally, and their insanely brilliant debut album. Blues with a bit of glam and a whole lot of punk spirit. The sheer loudness of the band is crazy, seeing as there’s one guitar, one drum kit and one hell of a voice, courtesy of Lindsey Troy. True girl power.

Phil Coales

  • Oliver Coates - Towards the Blessed Islands

  • Samaris - Samaris

  • Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold

  • William Onyeabor - World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor?

  • Devendra Banhart - Mala

Will Columbine

  • The Besnard Lakes - Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO

  • Foals - Holy Fire

  • My Bloody Valentine - MBV

  • Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time

  • Washed Out - Paracosm

Matthew Haddrill

5 from 2013

Alela Diane - About Farewell

An idea spun round and round makes a deep lasting impression. I discovered Alela Diane's rarified songcraft in 2013, sparse ballads set to a kind of revolving Americana that does genuinely 'haunt' (a much over-used word!). This is her 'post-divorce' album, singer alone with a few thoughts and just the guitar to keep her company, tying up some loose ends before she moves on with her life. Music stripped of pretence, the songwriter's 'voice' brilliantly articulates the hurt and bruises of a break-up. Feelings are so close you can almost reach out and touch them, particularly on the title song and 'Colorado Blue'. Yet the Portland songwriter carries the whole thing off without self-pity or hate. About Farewell is a masterstroke from an artist growing in confidence and maturity, who just seems destined to get better and better.

Anna Calvi – One Breath

Calvi's accomplished sophomore effort is a lesson in controlled power. Many will focus on the singles 'Eliza' and 'Suddenly', but like all great albums stop there and you're only scraping the surface. The real joy of One Breath is in all the things she appears to be holding back, the great satin-like voice ('Bleed Into Me'), menacing guitar blades cutting through a widescreen vision ('Tristan', conjuring a storm to rival anything the Savages have done!) and influences of exquisite orchestral pieces (the atmospheric 'Sing To Me') and sacred choral music ('The Bridge') which take things to another level entirely. More experimental 'Piece By Piece' and 'Carry Me Over' show off the incessant creativity and developing style, while the singles bring the pop sensibilities back into focus. It's like a mountain base camp, the ascent continues for Calvi …

Burial – Rival Dealer

William Emmanuel Bevan must felt boxed in, so he steps sideways slightly to deliver his most accessible release to date. The Rival Dealer ep is less about the physical urban spaces that Burial's earlier work inhabits, more about hopes and dreams somewhere else. With its trademark crackles and sonic 'effects', the title comes as close to a techno anthem as this artist would ever be prepared to go, but on 'Hiders' tape hiss sugar-coats bleeding coats of romance, and the theatricality of 'Come Down To Us', with its samples of a speech made by Lana Wachowski about overcoming the prejudice she faced as a transgender person both hint at something more profound. Bevan has since issued press statements underlining the themes of anti-bullying and self-belief, but this enchantingly dramatic spectacle of the ep just ties all the epic headphone moments in a musical for the young at heart.

Deerhunter – Monomania

Monomania tries to be many things, probably in an effort to debunk some of the baggage left from 2010's gossamer-finish Halcyon Digest. Garage-punk, noise, shoegaze, Americana are all thrown into the heady mix which sees Bradford Cox doubling back on himself in a nod to the band's 2004 hard-assed punk debut Turn It Up, Faggot. Songs like 'Leather Jacket' and 'Back To The Middle' are slightly counterbalanced by 'The Missing' and 'THM' from the softer melodic end of the band's oeuvre – they didn't totally kick out the jams - but hypnotic 'Neon Junkyard', country & western-inspired 'Pensacola' and the winding thrash of the title track are pleasant surprises, of which there are many on this musical rollercoaster and darn fine album.

Phoenix – Bankrupt!

Phoenix are still fighting the good fight against manufactured pop. Like Gallic kindred spirits Air and Daft Punk, they've realized there's no point in running away, the Beatles were pop after all! Bankrupt! is a clever foil to 2009's absurdly-titled and masterful album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, starting out with fresh songs and insight ('Entertainment', 'The Real Thing' and 'SOS In Bel Air are all classics!), but then delivering music with a dreamier and more experimental reach (the title track, 'Chloroform' and 'Don't' all pulse gently beneath the predominantly band's newfound synth-generated music), before returning with great verve by the end ('Bourgeois' and 'Oblique City'). Bands like Phoenix, M83 and MGMT offer a glimpse into pop's future, and with Depeche Mode even making a half-decent album this year, this still seems a curiously bright and beautiful thing.

Honorable Mentions:

Devendra Banhart 'Mala' – honing his songcraft on his spooky latest.
Willis Earl Beal 'Nobody Knows' – very dark soul and gospel album
James Blake 'Overgrown' – rare for an album to actually live up to its hype!
Dean Blunt 'The Redeemer' – another highly original talent, what is it, exactly? :)
Zachary Cale 'Blue Rider' – over-sized and under-appreciated talent, 8 folk gems
Georgia's Horse 'Weather Codes' – the darkest of Americana, still threatening something bigger
Las Kellies 'Total Exposure' – a band starting to really develop a funky reggae groove
Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog 'Your Turn' – his punk rock guitar playing seems to know no bounds
Ty Segall 'Fuzz' – prolific and creative whichever way he turns
Wire 'Change Becomes Us' – the masters back … but with inspiration from the past


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